I have had the good fortune to be able to watch some of the final test against South Africa this pm. With defeat staring them in the face an England side of the 1970’s would have tried to bore the South Africans to death or should that be Boycott 😉 Instead they provided a spectacle in which the lower order batsmen hit out to make some very quick runs and to bring the outstanding total within range. The South Africans were sweating and it wasn’t because of the weather. In the end they came through to win but the good hit comment to Matt Prior from the South African Captain after he was finally out says it all – a great game for all the spectators, which is what test crickect should be about.
Given the recent furore about Kevin Pietersen – a South-African born player who moved to England because he wasn’t happy about the Racial Quota selection process, I thought a look back to some of the ‘G’s of the past might be of interest. Pietersen’ mother was English, by the way, which makes him eligible to play for England – on that Basis, my Son can play for England, Scotland and Zimbabwe should he ever drag himself away from the computer games and really take an interest in cricket or rugby.
Back in the early 1970’s though it was a different South African born player who was destined to make all the headlines for the wrong reasons. Tony Grieg qualified to play for England because he had Scottish parents – quite how that works given that Scotland have a Cricket team that plays in the Cricket World Cup (when they qualify) I’m not entirely sure. In those days I used to travel to work by bus or bike. In the test match season I always went by bus so that I could listen to Test Match Special on long wave with my transistor radio and a pair of headphones. So, in 1976 as I wandered through the side streets of St. John’s Wood towards Lords Telephone Exchange I was horrified to hear the BBC replaying a speech by Tony Grieg in which he expressed his intention to make the West Indies Grovel. I cannot think of a worse public relations gaffe. If Grieg had delivered the speech in a Scottish accent… It might just about have been acceptable but in a world where the apartheid regime in South Africa was under attack for its racist values the delivery in a strong South African accent was guaranteed to incense both the West Indies players and dismay England supporters such as myself who were championing the cause against aparthied. It was both morally wrong and guaranteed to add a couple of yards of pace to the West Indies bowling attack. England duly paid the price and were hammered.
Move forward some years and we have Mike Gatting as England Captain. Gatting was a surprise to many of us because he seemed to have come from the wrong school to be an England Captain. Clearly, for once ability was considered more important than having gone to the right school. Gatting had been a budding footballer… Gatting proved to be a good England Captain but was a bit too pugnacious – prepared to argue with Shakoor Rana in Pakistan over a decision that he felt was wrong and it was probably the closest thing to a genuine diplomatic incident that cricket has ever had to deal with. Sadly, when you read up about what went on, both men were probably at fault. It didn’t help that Pakistan at the time had a reputation for cheating – we all remember the television shots of the wicket keeper dropping the catch, picking the ball off the ground behind him and then shouting Howzat as if he had caught it – no names , no pack drill. The rules changed after that (maybe not immediately but soon afterwards) – home umpires were no longer allowed for test matches. But Gatting’s days were numbered and the ECB just needed a whiff of scandal – cue a barmaid and he was gone!
Gooch – where do I go with this… Graham Gooch was an Essex player with Boycott like abilities. He could bore the opposition into submission. I hated watching him play – Daniel Gooch was more exciting when he was designing the Star Class for the Great Western Railway than Graham Gooch was on the cricket field! However, I suspect he laid the foundations of the hard-work ethic that England players now have to accept – gone are the Fred Trueman days of cricket between pints 😉